By Baba Galleh Jallow
As the sun was rising the following day, Alkatan sat on his sheepskin outside his hut, stoking his small beard, and musing at the strangeness of life. His thoughts were on Afang Hadumeh. He knew sooner or later, he would hear something about the greedy trader. He was not surprised when suddenly, an ominous scream wafted into his ears, and continued in long notes, over and over again. It was the voice of a man screaming woooi . . . . woooi . . . . woooi they have killed me! Woooi they have killed me! Woooi they have destroyed my world! The ghostly lamentations were loud and clear, piercing the early morning airs of Tonya Kunda like a horrible tragedy. Against the background of the screams Alkatan could hear a cacophony of agitated voices shouting and talking loudly.
Alkatan groaned, and shook his head, wondering why humans wilfully bring so much pain upon themselves and their loved ones. He wondered why people do not heed the wisdom of the elders and the ancestors, why people often doubt that the path of the soul is longer than the grave. He wondered why people like Afang Hadumeh could not see that a rat cannot give birth to a rabbit, nor a rabbit to a rat. That we cannot sow pepper and reap sugar cane. Afang Hadumeh could have created a paradise for himself and his progeny with his wealth. But he chose to do the exact reverse. He chose to be cruel and stingy, even to his own family. For while Afang Hadumeh was the wealthiest man in Tonya Kunda, his family often went hungry for days on end because business was not good and Afang Hadumeh could not afford to lose his money. And so he gave only a fraction of the usual fish money to each of his four wives, and he subsisted on bread and other snacks in his large shop . . . . It was a matter of constant wonder for the people of Tonya Kunda that Afang Hadumeh did not even wear shoes. Some said it was the secret of his wealth, but many knew Afang Hadumeh was just too stingy to buy a pair of shoes every once in a while. So he avoided shoes altogether. “Shoes? What shoes?” he liked to ask. ‘What if you bought shoes and you went somewhere and you forgot them there? Is that not a loss?”
Alkatan sighed and looked up. He saw a woman approaching his hut. She did not seem to be in any particular hurry, but Alkatan could feel the urgency of her demeanor as she greeted and addressed him.
“Good morning Ba Alkatan,” she said. “I have come to beg you to come help my husband, Afang Hadumeh. It seems like his eyes are touched this morning. I was told you came to beg him to untie Niara Dinding’s husband yesterday. That’s why I came. Hadumeh is a difficult man; his affairs are very difficult; but he is my husband and the father of my children. So I have to get up and try to do something. Please do it for God and come help us Ba Alkatan.”
“Nna, I have heard your words,” Alkatan said, calmly. “Please sit on that chair and tell me what happened to your husband so we see if I can help him.” The woman sat down, quietly, her face tense, the look in her eyes inscrutable. But Alkatan saw the deep worry and the chronic pain in her eyes; he saw the woman who would suffer in silence, for years, for decades, for life because she was told there was nothing she could do. Alkatan sighed, and the tears flowed in his heart.
“Ba Alkatan,” the woman started, looking down at her feet then up at Alkatan. “I am Hadumeh’s first wife. He slept in my bed last night. Around dawn, when the cocks started crowing, he started shouting in his sleep. He shouted three times before I could wake him up. When he woke up he sat up, looked at me and said, “eh, so this was all a dream?” I said to him, “what dream, you were shouting in your sleep.” He did not say anything. He just got up and went to perform the ablution and went to the mosque for the morning prayers. When he came back he told me about his dream. He said he had dreamed that thieves had stolen all his wealth; but that he just passed by his shop and the doors were all locked, just like he left them yesterday. He said he opened the door and saw that nothing was touched; he said all the merchandise was there like he left it yesterday. Then he locked up and came to have his breakfast.” The woman paused, and looked at Alkatan. Then she continued.
“Eh, when he finished breakfast, he went to open the shop. Then I heard him shouting again, just as he was shouting in his sleep, saying woooi they have killed me; woooi they have destroyed my world. He kept shouting that, and we all ran to see what happened. We found Hadumeh standing in the middle of his shop, his hands on his head, just shouting and shouting. We saw that there was nothing in the shop; not even a piece of paper. All the merchandise was gone. Even the chair he sits on was gone, and the iron box where he kept all his money and gold. All that was left in the shop was his big stick, the one he uses to beat us and the children and anyone who offended him. Eh, we do not know how this happened and we asked him again and again, Hadumeh, what happened, Hadumeh what happened? Ba Alkatan, what he told us was strange. I don’t even know the head or tail of it” The woman paused again, held her mouth and continued telling Alkatan what Afang Hadumeh said.
“Eh, after some time he stopped shouting and said last night he was sleeping when he dreamt that someone was calling his name and telling him that some people were waiting for him at his shop. He said he got up and went; when he went he found about eight young men standing near the shop; he said one of them told him “Hadumeh, open your shop.” He said when he opened the shop, the men started loading all his merchandise in a big truck standing by. He said he stood by and saw them load everything in the shop onto the truck, even his money box. He said when they took everything from the shop, they told him, “Hadumeh, now you can lock the shop and go back to sleep.” He said he then saw the truck moving away. As soon as the truck started moving, he said he started shouting and that was when he woke up in my bed. He said when he went to the mosque and back, he saw that the shop was locked. He said he even opened the shop to make sure and everything was inside. Nothing was missing. But he said after breakfast when he went to open the shop, he found it empty. Nothing was there. When he said that, he started shouting again. And he took his stick and started beating everybody and saying they have killed him. We had to shout so that the men could come. When the men came, they all fell on him and brought him to the ground and tied him up. That’s when he stopped shouting; but he kept crying and groaning that they have killed him. We are worried Ba Alkatan. What shall we do? Eh this world!” The woman fell silent, and bent her head.
Alkatan groaned. His heart cried for the woman and Hadumeh’s family. But do humans not bring upon themselves the wrath of their own souls which are outraged at the suffering of other souls caused by humans? If all Hadumeh loved was his wealth, how could he be helped when his wealth was forever gone because he had used it to inflict injustice on his fellow humans? This time was bound to come for Hadumeh, as it does for everyone like him. But Alkatan knew that while the woman was worried, she and Hadumeh’s family would do just fine. He knew that soon enough, they would learn to enjoy some relief because Hadumeh had become poor, and he would become quiet. But the family would thrive by their labor and would support Hadumeh as long as he lived.
“Eh, Nna,” Alkatan said. “This is a very sad situation; but the only way your husband can be helped is by bringing back his wealth; and I cannot do that. What I see is that he will be all right; his eyes will not be touched. But he will taste poverty because he will never get his wealth back. But you and your family will be able to help him. When you go you will find that they have untied him; but he will not talk much from now on because he can never stop thinking about his wealth. You go home now and hold onto God. He will help you.”
The woman thanked Alkatan and left shortly before Afang Njonji, the Alkalo of Kaira Kunda came to seek Alkatan’s help about a sorcerer he said had turned his peaceful village into a place of conflict, fear and restlessness. Alkatan listened as the alkalo told him the strange story of Nyakahel the sorcerer who, when he came to Kaira Kunda, insisted he was the real alkalo and went about beating women who quarreled with their husbands and forcing people to drink his medicine because he insisted they were sick even if they were as healthy as iron!